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What is a kākahu? 

Explore the origins of weaving, as told in the Māori creation story. Get a quick history of cloak-making in New Zealand. Learn about key cloak styles, and discover special cloaks outside as well as inside Te Papa.

Origins of Māori weaving

Te Pō and Papatūānuku, 1983, by Robyn Kahukiwa (born 1941), pencil on paper. Te Papa (1983-0020-1)

The origins of Māori weaving lie in the origins of the world itself. Uncover the whakapapa (genealogy) of this art form, as told in the Māori creation story, and discover why women are its main guardians.

History of Māori cloak-making

Weaver Makurata Paitini (1912–26). Photograph by James McDonald (1865–1935). Te Papa (MA_C.001346)

The first Māori settlers brought weaving to Aotearoa New Zealand, adapting the art form to make cloaks for the cold climate. Here’s the ‘short story’ from its beginnings – from innovation to decline and on to revival.

Styles of Māori cloak

Kākahu (cloaks) from Te Papa’s collection. Photograph by Mike O’Neill, 2006. Te Papa

Māori weavers made many types of cloak, from rugged rain capes to garments of great prestige. They developed new styles and techniques over time, weaving in materials introduced by European settlers.

Māori cloaks beyond Te Papa

Detail of the three borders of tāniko (geometric patterning) on a huaki, 1800–35. National Gallery of Australia (2007.616)

See precious cloaks from collections outside Aotearoa New Zealand.

Toi Te Rito Maihi – Meaning of cloaks

Toi Te Rito Maihi

Toi Te Rito Maihi, a weaving artist and one of the authors of Whatu Kākahu | Māori Cloaks, talks about the meaning of cloaks.
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Banner image: Kākahu (cloaks) from Te Papa’s collection. Photograph by Mike O’Neill, 2006. Te Papa

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